Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, in full Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Crispín Crispiniano María Remedios de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso, also called (before 1901) Pablo Ruiz or Pablo Ruiz Picasso, (born October 25, 1881, Málaga, Spain—died April 8, 1973, Mougins, France), Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most-influential artists of the 20th century and the creator (with Georges Braque) of Cubism. (For more information on Picasso’s name see Researcher’s Note: Picasso’s full name.)

The enormous body of Picasso’s work remains, and the legend lives on—a tribute to the vitality of the “disquieting” Spaniard with the “sombre…piercing” eyes who superstitiously believed that work would keep him alive. For nearly 80 of his 91 years, Picasso devoted himself to an artistic production that contributed significantly to and paralleled the whole development of modern art in the 20th century.
 
EARLY YEARS
Pablo Picasso was the son of José Ruiz Blasco, a professor of drawing, and Maria Picasso López. His unusual adeptness for drawing began to manifest itself early, around the age of 10, when he became his father’s pupil in A Coruña, where the family moved in 1891. From that point his ability to experiment with what he learned and to develop new expressive means quickly allowed him to surpass his father’s abilities. In A Coruña his father shifted his own ambitions to those of his son, providing him with models and support for his first exhibition there at age 13.
 
The family moved to Barcelona in the autumn of 1895, and Pablo entered the local art academy (La Llotja), where his father had assumed his last post as professor of drawing. The family hoped that their son would achieve success as an academic painter, and in 1897 his eventual fame in Spain seemed assured; in that year his painting Science and Charity, for which his father modeled for the doctor, was awarded an honourable mention in Madrid at the Fine Arts Exhibition.
 
The Spanish capital was the obvious next stop for the young artist intent on gaining recognition and fulfilling family expectations. Pablo Ruiz duly set off for Madrid in the autumn of 1897 and entered the Royal Academy of San Fernando. But finding the teaching there stupid, he increasingly spent his time recording life around him, in the cafés, on the streets, in the brothels, and in the Prado, where he discovered Spanish painting. He wrote: “The Museum of paintings is beautiful. Velázquez first class; from El Greco some magnificent heads, Murillo does not convince me in every one of his pictures.” Works by those and other artists would capture Picasso’s imagination at different times during his long career. Goya, for instance, was an artist whose works Picasso copied in the Prado in 1898 (a portrait of the bullfighter Pepe Illo and the drawing for one of the Caprichos, Bien tirada está, which shows a Celestina [procuress] checking a young maja’s stockings). Those same characters reappear in his late work—Pepe Illo in a series of engravings (1957) and Celestina as a kind of voyeuristic self-portrait, especially in the series of etchings and engravings known as Suite 347 (1968).
 
Picasso fell ill in the spring of 1898 and spent most of the remaining year convalescing in the Catalan village of Horta de Ebro in the company of his Barcelona friend Manuel Pallarès. When Picasso returned to Barcelona in early 1899, he was a changed man: he had put on weight; he had learned to live on his own in the open countryside; he spoke Catalan; and, most important, he had made the decision to break with his art-school training and to reject his family’s plans for his future. He even began to show a decided preference for his mother’s surname, and more often than not he signed his works P.R. Picasso; by late 1901 he had dropped the Ruiz altogether.

In Barcelona Picasso moved among a circle of Catalan artists and writers whose eyes were turned toward Paris. Those were his friends at the café Els Quatre Gats (“The Four Cats,” styled after the Chat Noir [“Black Cat”] in Paris), where Picasso had his first Barcelona exhibition in February 1900, and they were the subjects of more than 50 portraits (in mixed media) in the show. In addition, there was a dark, moody “modernista” painting, Last Moments (later painted over), showing the visit of a priest to the bedside of a dying woman, a work that was accepted for the Spanish section of the Exposition Universelle in Paris in that year. Eager to see his own work in place and to experience Paris firsthand, Picasso set off in the company of his studio mate Carles Casagemas (Portrait of Carles Casagemas [1899]) to conquer, if not Paris, at least a corner of Montmartre.

THE BLUE PERIOD
Between 1901 and mid-1904, when blue was the predominant colour in his paintings, Picasso moved back and forth between Barcelona and Paris, taking material for his work from one place to the other. For example, his visits to the Women’s Prison of Saint-Lazare in Paris in 1901–02, which provided him with free models and compelling subject matter (The Soup [1902]), were reflected in his depictions of Barcelona street people—blind or lonely beggars and castaways in 1902–03 (Crouching Woman [1902]; Blind Man’s Meal [1903]; Old Jew and a Boy [1903]). The subject of maternity (women were allowed to keep nursing children with them at the prison) also preoccupied Picasso at a time when he was searching for material that would best express traditional art-historical subjects in 20th-century terms.
 
THE MOVE TO PARIS AND THE “RED PERIOD”
Picasso finally made the decision to move permanently to Paris in the spring of 1904, and his work reflects a change of spirit and especially a response to different intellectual and artistic currents. The traveling circus and saltimbanques became a subject he shared with a new and important friend, Guillaume Apollinaire. To both the poet and the painter those rootless wandering performers (Girl Balancing on a Ball [1905]; The Actor [1905]) became a kind of evocation of the artist’s position in modern society. Picasso specifically made that identification in Family of Saltimbanques (1905), where he assumes the role of Harlequin and Apollinaire is the strongman (according to their mutual friend, the writer André Salmon).

Picasso’s personal circumstances also changed when at the end of 1904 Fernande Olivier became his mistress. Her presence inspired many works during the years leading up to Cubism, especially on their trip to Gosol in 1906 (Woman with Loaves).

Colour never came easily to Picasso, and he reverted to a generally more-Spanish (i.e., monochromatic) palette. The tones of the Blue Period were replaced from late 1904 to 1906 in the so-called Rose Period by those of pottery, of flesh, and of the earth itself (The Harem [1906]). Picasso seems to have been working with colour in an attempt to come closer to sculptural form, especially in 1906 (Two Nudes; La Toilette). His Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) and a Self-Portrait with Palette (1906) show that development as well as the influence of his discovery of archaic Iberian sculpture.
 
CUBISM
Picasso and Braque worked together closely during the next few years (1909–12)—the only time Picasso ever worked with another painter in this way—and they developed what came to be known as Analytical Cubism. Early Cubist paintings were often misunderstood by critics and viewers because they were thought to be merely geometric art. Yet the painters themselves believed they were presenting a new kind of reality that broke away from Renaissance tradition, especially from the use of perspective and illusion. For example, they showed multiple views of an object on the same canvas to convey more information than could be contained in a single limited illusionistic view.
 
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